The author, then Constable Tony Kelly, carried out the last Police Camel Patrol in Australia during May and June 1953, in the Finke Police District. Finke (now Apatula) was the last Police Station in Australia with camels on strength. The South Australian Police had previously had a Camel Patrol from Oodnadatta, but that had been phased out. I took over the Finke Police District from Senior Constable Ron Brown. (Ron was the co-author of Bush Justice, published in 1990). Finke was my first bush posting. I had been transferred to the Finke from Alice Springs, arriving by train on 4th November 1951. I remained stationed at the Finke until I was posted to Alice Springs, on my return from my biennial 3 months leave which had commenced on 26th March 1954.
Finke was my first ‘bush’ posting. I had served previously at both Darwin and Alice Springs. I had been recruited to the N.T. Police from NSW, where I was a Clerical Officer in the Public Service, then acting as relieving clerk at the Morisset mental asylum. I had no interview before appointment, having answered a recruiting advertisement by mail. My reading of Ion Idriess’ books about the Territory and the Islands had raised my interest in the Territory and the NT Police while I was still at school. I was provided with an air ticket from Sydney to Darwin. The flight, in a DC3, took more than thirteen hours. It was a ‘milk-run’, which hopped from town to town across Queensland. It certainly gave one an appreciation of the size of Australia. I arrived in Darwin on 24th March 1950, towards the end of the wet season. I was the first of the 1950 intake to arrive, as I had lost no time resigning from my rather routine job in the Public Service. At that time the full complement of the Force was fewer than 50 men throughout the entire Territory. The Police Establishment for the Northern Territory was about 60, but there were always vacancies. As I write this in January 2000 there are some 120 Police in Alice Springs alone!
On arrival in Darwin I was issued with a baton and badges, my collar number being 61. I was then sworn in and directed to a Chinese tailor to obtain a uniform. There were a number of such tailors so uniforms were not entirely uniform. Some of the older members of the force still wore their broad brimmed hats in a peak, with three dents, somewhat similar to the New Zealand Army style, whilst the rest wore the hats with a single crease, adding to the variety. Police caps were unknown. It seems odd to see Territory Police wearing peaked caps, when Police in the rest of Australia are moving more to broad brims. Peaked caps were introduced first by Constable Bill (Blossom) Dunn, when he got one of the first Police Motorcycles to ride. He had been in the SA Police and he also liked to sport his jodhpurs and leather leggings.
Apart from the badges and buttons I was issued with a few copies of N.T. Ordinances, the most important being the Police and Police Offences Ordinance. Training consisted of hanging around the Bennett Street Station for a couple of days until the uniform, comprising khaki short sleeved open neck shirt, kaki drill trousers and broad brimmed hat, was ready. The new recruits were paired with an old hand and sent out on foot patrols of the town. Constable Henry Lullfitz was my mentor. He was a sound and straight character. Once when we were on foot patrol we were told of a fight in the Don. I wheeled around to go straight to it. Henry steadied me and continued on his less direct route. The combatants were pretty worn out when we arrived.
Darwin was still much as the Japanese had left it after the bombing, which began on 19th February 1942. The force that hit Darwin was larger than the force that had bombed Pearl Harbor the previous December. Darwin Harbor was full of sunken ships, which appeared at low tide, as the tidal movement was about 19 feet, or 6 metres. The Commonwealth Bank, across the road in Bennett Street, was still a bombed out shell and there were many similar sights, including the original Post Office. On town patrols we had to scramble over piles of debris from shattered buildings. The streets were clear but the shortcuts, such as between the Vic Hotel and the Darwin Hotel, were hazardous. Darwin was a colourful and interesting place, and fully measured up to the expectations Ion Idriess had raised in me. There was a great mixture of races, but people were mainly treated in accordance with how they acted rather than their race. The aborigines were prohibited from drinking, and had to leave the town at night, except for picture night. To people with no knowledge of aborigines the prohibition on liquor might appear harsh, but it was a practice that had its foundations in the experience of contacts with aborigines in Australia since the first settlement. Aborigines cannot tolerate alcohol. Subsequently the 1960’s generation knew better than all their elders (and betters), and they did the aboriginals the ‘favour’ of removing those prohibitions, to the detriment of what remained of the aboriginal’s dignity and culture. One exception to the rule to leave town in the evening was Nucklejar, an ex-tracker. Who could forget his immaculate appearance in spotless whites, with a dignity to match?
If there had been a conspiracy to destroy the aboriginal race and culture it could not have been carried out more effectively than was achieved by the 60’s generation’s genocidal ‘reforms’. What was done was done with the best of possible motives, but with profound ignorance. Perhaps we could consider similarly `reforming’ the prohibition on heroin by making it freely available to all.
The form of training, learning on the job, was risky in retrospect but effective. I was disappointed to find on my return to Darwin many years after I had left the Force, a more regimented style of training had been introduced. I have not had the opportunity to examine the present training. Regimented training is designed to produce unthinking compliance with orders whilst at law, a Police Officer always has the responsibility for his own actions. The 1950 intake were short on saluting and standing to attention, and nobody ever tried to march us, but we used our initiative and provided effective policing. Foot patrols, ‘showing the flag’, was the order of the day. We were few, but highly visible. Prevention was considered better than cure. We had some vehicles, but used them mainly to take us to locations for foot patrols at places like the Parap and Berrimah Compound.
At the first meeting of the Police Association I attended I was elected as Editor of the Police Association Journal. Very few early issues of this Association Journal have survived, and if any retired members – or even Police Station files – have old copies, they should be photocopied and sent to Citation or to RPANT. They are a valuable source of information about members and conditions. When I returned to Darwin as Sergeant Prosecutor in 1956 I was elected President of the Police Association, and prepared and helped argue a case for better pay and conditions before the Police Arbitral Tribunal, Mr. Justice Kriewaldt.
When first in Darwin I found the range of Police duties surprising. A few of us were sent as reinforcements from Darwin to a race meeting at Katherine, 220 miles down the Bitumen, as the North-South road was called. It was the only bitumened main road outside the towns. Constable Keith Price’s duty was to run the Tote! Katherine appealed to me and I used to motorcycle down from Darwin to spearfish in the river. I had handmade gear, made by a workmate in the NSW Public Service who had been a frogman during the war; commercial spear fishing gear was not then available. I always got a feed, and never bothered about crocodiles, as they were then hunted for their skins, so were less likely to attack.
After a short spell in Darwin I was transferred to A1ice Springs. This entailed a two-day journey by non air-conditioned bus and another visit to the tailor, as Southern Division had a winter uniform of brown gaberdine. There was more uniformity as John Martin's in Adelaide had the contract to supply the uniforms. After Constable Bert Mettam left the force he used to measure us up for the winter uniforms.
Alice Springs was truly a green oasis in the desert, particularly after two days on the bus. The streets were planted with white cedars, which were removed years later. The single men’s quarters were attached to the Police Station, a brick building, and we ate at the Administration Mess. If we didn’t make breakfast, after a hectic night, a milk shake at Heenan’s with a couple of eggs in it would do the job. In Darwin we had eaten at the Police Barracks in Daly Street, so we saw other Police both on and off duty. Our rooms in Daly Street were pretty tiny, the new recruits getting the worst, and a fan under the mosquito net was the nearest we got to luxury. We clubbed together to pay the cook, and did our own washing and ironing. A uniform would not survive as wearable without washing for more than one day. In Alice Springs we mixed more with other single Government employees at the Mess. As there was always a fairly high staff turnover, Alice Springs, which then had a population of about 3,000, was anything but dull.
I was on foot patrol with Sam Parsons in Alice Springs one afternoon shift. We had checked out Todd Street and the Stuart Arms and were rounding Heenan’s corner on our way to Underdown’s pub. I saw the prettiest girl crossing the street towards us. Sam turned the corner while I continued straight ahead, and had to cross back to catch up with Sam, who chuckled at my distraction. Sam was a good bloke who had been a member of the Metropolitan Police before coming to Australia. I married the girl.
There were no spare Police Houses available in Alice Springs – no one seemed to have thought of Police occupying other Administration houses, so Madge and I took up residence in the Stuart Arms Hotel. This cost more than my pay, but fortunately Madge was working. A few months later I was posted to the Finke.
Finke was on the old Ghan Railway line and was the only NT Police Station South of Alice Springs. Most North-South traffic passed through the Finke by rail. At that time there was no formed road from Alice Springs to Adelaide. There was only a seldom-used dirt track, running through Kulgera, made by the occasional single cut by a grader. I was stationed at the Finke from November 1951 to March 1954. The township was near the Western edge of the Simpson Desert, about 50 kilometres from the South Australian border. You could see the first line of sandhills from the Police House.
The Police Station Office at Finke was a small galvanised iron annexe attached to the Police house, itself constructed of a metal frame and galvanised iron except for the wooden floor and the windows. There was no attempt at insulation. The house was surrounded by a verandah, enclosed by galvanised iron and flywire, hot as Hades in the summer and pretty cool in winter. We had a ration store in the yard, where rations were issued weekly to aged and infirm aborigines, and a storeroom where we stored the camel gear and other police supplies, including a coffin. Police carried out burials when necessary. There was also a small cell. There was a high oleander hedge around the Police yard, which never needed watering, and a large chook yard with a peppercorn tree providing shade, also a garden with established fig trees and a mulberry tree – none of which seem to have survived, as I discovered on a recent visit. The old township is now an Aboriginal settlement. I have heard that the house and Police Station are to be restored, as the oldest police house still standing in the NT.
The Finke Police district was probably the largest one man Police district in Australia. It ran from a line drawn from East to West, some seven miles (eleven kilometres) South of Alice Springs, running from the Queensland border to the West Australian border, and continued down to the SA border, enclosing some 220,000 square kilometres. My responsibility also extended beyond the Northern Territory, as I was also a Special Constable for South Australia. My access to Ernabella, an Aboriginal Mission across the border in South Australia, was closer than it was for SA Police from Oodnadatta, the nearest SA Police station. Ernabella was about 180 miles from Finke. The only transport provided to cover this huge area was a string of six Police camels, Jumper, Oodnadatta, Fred, Finke, Ferdinand and Flossie. The camels were on the Police Station inventory, and when one died it took a lot of paperwork to have it written off.
Ernabella Mission featured in another incident while I was at Finke. The local Aboriginal ‘rainmaker’ was known as Yabba Yabba Jimmy. I kept his sacred ‘rain-stone’, which was actually a piece of pearl-shell with a human-hair cord attached, in the Police Station safe. We had had no rain for years and I kept asking Yabba when he was going to make rain. ‘Not yet Boss’ was always the answer. Then one day he came and asked for the rain-stone, to make rain. The sky was cloudless. He went off and had his ceremony and sure enough, the clouds came up, we had a few drops of rain and then the worst sandstorm we had experienced. When Yabba came to give back the rainstone for safe-keeping I said ‘You must bin rubbim that wrong stone Jimmy. Might be you bin rubbim that sand stone, make all that dust’. ‘I bin makim that rain allright Boss’ he replied, ‘but them halleluja buggars ‘long Ernabella, they bin too strong for me. They bin take’im away’. I told Ron Brown the story when I saw him at the 1986 Police Reunion, and he used it in his book.
The Policeman at a bush station was effectively the Government agent. He was a registrar of vehicles, of firearms and dogs, a stock inspector a licensing inspector and health inspector, a destroyer of dingo scalps, agent for the flying Doctor and the visiting dentist, and custodian of a medical kit to provide treatment to the sick and injured, if necessary after discussion with the doctor in Alice Springs. He had to establish a clinic for the Flying Doctor’s occasional visits and maintain the airstrip. He was responsible for the distribution of rations to aged and infirm aboriginals. When he was away on patrol a lot of these duties devolved upon his wife.
The Finke township comprised the Finke pub, Colson’s store, a Post Office and Overland Telegraph repeater station next to the Police Station, a Railway house for the Pumper, Spud Murphy, who supplied water for the town and the trains, and a Fettlers barracks for the crew who maintained the Ghan railway line. Frank Quinn, the mailman, lived in a caravan. He ran a weekly mail and goods service to the cattle stations in the District. Phil Turco was the cook at the fettler’s camp. His two sons worked in the gang. They were Italian migrants, enemy aliens, in the jargon of the day. Phil would sometimes bring over a great dish of Pasta, a novelty in those days, with a couple of small birds with their legs in the air on the top. They looked suspiciously like top-knot pigeons, but without their feathers there was no way of telling, was there? The town also sported a tennis court, a community hall, and a racetrack - just over the first sandhill towards the Simpson Desert, and an airstrip. There was a blacks camp in a nearby gully, mostly old people, and including Mick Doolan, a tribal elder and retired Tracker, and the two Trackers attached to the Police Station.
Madge was raised in Alice Springs so was used to dust storms, but nothing like we experienced at Finke. We would shut ourselves into the kitchen until they passed but even then the dust would get to us. After a dust storm we would shovel the dirt off the verandah and hose down the verandah walls. We had a good water supply from the Railway tank. We got electricity from the Overland Telegraph repeater next door. It was 110 volts DC, not the standard 240 volt AC used in Alice Springs, so it would only work the lights. We had a kerosene fridge and a double door Coolgardie safe. This was a wooden frame covered with hessian, with a water tank on top. Strips of cloth take the water to the hessian (or burlap).
In the summer of 1953 our second daughter, Patricia, was about four months old. She felt the heat and tried to keep the town awake with her crying. I managed to get a 110-volt fan, cut a hole in the back of the Coolgardie safe, which was on the verandah, and put the fan inside the safe, blowing out the back. I took a pane of glass out of the window of the sitting room and let the fan blow into the room after it had been drawn through the wet walls of the safe. We were the proud owners of our first ‘air conditioner’. The baby slept well and so did the town. The Coolgardie safe also worked more efficiently, keeping vegetables crisp.
The main events of the week were the arrival of the Ghan, on its way to and from The Alice. It stopped at the Finke to fill the depleted water tanks of the steam engine, and to refresh the passengers at the pub. When ready to leave, the train would blow its whistle to empty the hotel. Sometimes it would have to start up and move the carriages to convince the drinkers to leave the pub. It was a hectic half-hour but never any trouble as the customers concentrated on drinking. The Ghan was not air-conditioned – I don’t think anything was - and it did not have a Bar.
We ran a herd of some 300 goats, which provided us with both milk and meat. Occasionally the Ghan would be held up when the Finke flooded as the train track was laid on the normally dry bed of the river. Bridges had been built but had washed away. On one occasion when the Ghan’s stores were running low, we provided a goat for a barbecue for the passengers. They said they had never tasted better lamb.
My first camel patrol was a brief foray to New Crown and Andado Stations and on into the Simpson Desert, in September 1952, to familiarise myself with the camels. Not that I wanted to get too familiar. They are the only animals, which smell just as bad at either end, and they attract every fly within 100 miles. I find it difficult to understand people paying for the ‘pleasure’ of riding them. In October 1952 I patrolled to Horseshoe Bend, Maryvale, Renner’s Rock, then Bob Buck’s Station, now called Orange Creek, Henbury, Palmer Valley, Erldunda and Kulgera, covering 550 kilometres by the end of the month.
When I was away Madge had to hand out the rations to the aged and infirm aboriginals. The rations comprised treacle, flour, tea, sugar, baking powder, chewing tobacco, dress material and blankets. She would also have to treat medical problems with the Flying Doctor kit. We treated everything from coughs, colds, boils and bung eyes to yaws and gonorrhea. At 19 years of age this was quite a responsibility, but she had worked previously at the Alice Springs Hospital as the typist-receptionist, so she knew the Doctors and could contact them if in difficulties.
The Flying Doctor made regular visits to the town. I would let everyone know to present for “coughs, colds, boils, moles and pimples on the (ankles)”. Madge would set up the clinic on the verandah of the Police house. The same routine would be done for the Dentist, whose drill was foot operated, by a treadle. The Finke could be a busy place. There were plenty of goods trains and many of the crews were friends of Madge’s parents or her relatives, so she saw many familiar faces.
We got most of our stores from Alice Springs or from the Commonwealth stores at Port Augusta. Doughy Moore, the friendly baker from Todd Street, sent us fresh supplies of yeast every fortnight and I made the bread. We got our milk from our goats.
We always boiled the milk as we suspected the girl who did the milking put her foot in the bucket to steady it, particularly on cold mornings. It was not only Camel Patrols, which took me away, and left Madge holding the fort. When Alice Springs was very short of staff I was called back to help out the town patrol. I also had to visit the fettling camps along the railway line. On one occasion a fettler died after a fight in a camp up the line. I had to use an open quad car, a small motorised four-wheel rail-car, to travel up to the camp to retrieve the body and take it on top of the quad to Alice Springs for a post mortem. We found the victim died from a ruptured spleen, as a result of excessive drinking. The spleen ran through your fingers when you tried to lift it. The fight had precipitated the rupture, but the blow would normally not have had a serious effect.
The fettling camps were interesting mixtures of people. The pumper at Bundooma was Ted Ryko, who had ridden a pushbike from Adelaide to Alice in the 30’s. He was a tall, thin well-tanned character. He had to walk from Bundooma every day to the pump at Alice Well on the Hugh River. It was pretty hot crossing the sandhills so Ted used to go through the rags, which were sent to him to clean the pump engine. He liked to select ladies slips to wear, as they were cool. For his walk over the sandhills he also made a turban, which he wetted, with a jam tin full of water in the centre, with a small hole in it to keep the turban wet. Ghan passengers were sometimes amazed to see this turbaned apparition in a ladies slip coming back over the sandhills. I think Ted timed his walk for the effect.
The occasion of the last Camel Patrol was a murder near Curtin Springs Station, some 300 Kilometres to the West. On Monday 4th May 1953 1 received a phone call from Inspector Graham at Alice Springs. He told me that Constable Milgate from Alice Springs and Native Affairs Patrol Officer Les Penhall had gone to Curtain Springs by Land Rover, but they were unable to pursue the suspect into the desert. I was to meet them at Curtain Springs with sufficient riding came1s and supplies to enable the suspect to be pursued into the Western desert. There were no supplies of petrol, and no settlement, West of Curtain Springs.
I spent the next day with the Trackers rounding up the six Police Camels, Finke, Ferdinand, Flossie, Fred, Jumper and Oodnadatta. I also had to borrow two additional riding camels and saddles from Mick Doolan. The riding saddle is just two strips of iron held about 60 cm. apart by three iron arches, one at each end and one in the centre. The side strips are padded with hessian and straw, the first arch goes in front of the hump, the second behind it. The rider sits on his blanket between the second and third. After my first patrol I had got a Dunlopillow tractor seat cushion to provide some comfort on long rides. Even then, I walked most of the way, only riding in the midday heat.
The camels were loaded with stores with one water camel carrying two water tanks. I set off with Trackers Peter and Stanley for Curtain Springs. Peter was an old tracker who had served Ron Brown. Stanley was a young tracker, about my own age, who showed a lot of initiative. He was not initiated, which marked him as an unusually independent thinker. This had him categorised as a cheeky black, and I was warned against employing him. I found him a good companion. Normally on patrol the Trackers would find the way, as they knew the country intimately. However they have very little use for a straight line, or for time saving, and would have travelled a very indirect route. As I was in as much of a hurry as was possible when using a camel train, I determined that the most direct route would be across the Wild Horse Plains towards Erldunda for the first part of the journey, following a compass bearing across the Plains as far as the country would allow.
The first days journey took us along the dry creek bed of the Finke River to Crown Point, where we left the river and headed for Lilla Creek, skirting some sand ridges on our left. We camped that night some 30 Kilometres from Finke. The following day we passed through Lilla Creek Station and camped at Angathita Well, avoiding some claypan country on our right. We had made some 36 Kilometres, which was fairly good going. A loaded camel train walks at about 3.5 Kilometres per hour. Many old maps, including the hand-drawn one I was using, were made taking into account the camels pace at two and a quarter miles per hour.
When on patrol it wasn’t just a matter of mounting your camel and riding off. The camels would be hobbled out at dusk when we made camp, and the following morning we had to track them down and retrieve them. Feed was scarce and they would wander off a fair distance.
We were headed in the direction of what was shown on the map as a ridge of hills, which present day maps show as Mount Kingston, still skirting the claypan country. Camels are very particular about the type of country they will walk across. Their feet are soft pads so they dislike rocky country and they refuse to walk on slippery ground. With their long legs and heavy bodies, they can break a leg or dislocate a joint easily if one leg slips.
When we reached the vicinity of Mount Kingston, instead of the ridge of hills shown on my hand-drawn map there were just a few flat-topped hills. I climbed the highest one to take compass bearings to confirm our position. The side of the hill near the top was very steep. When I reached the tabletop I was surprised to see a young camel looking down at me.
I called to the trackers to bring some ropes and in short order we had the young camel cornered on the edge of the drop and roped him. We had to tie his legs and lower him over the edge. My aim was to break him in as a riding camel. Most camels are cantankerous but this often comes from ill treatment. Broken properly they can be both good natured and intelligent.
There was plenty of saltbush on the top of the hill, but no water. We tried to work out how the young camel had got up there. The Trackers reckoned he had been born up there, his mother having somehow scrambled to the top when frightened by a storm. We searched the perimeter for bones but she had apparently got herself down without breaking anything, but the calf must have been too afraid to follow.
On my previous patrol I had been held up near Henbury Station by storms. When the rain had started I had headed for some sandhills near the Palmer River, where we waited for the country to dry out before proceeding. That was some eight months before, which was about the age of the young camel we had just found.
We tied the young camel behind one of the pack camels and headed for Erldunda, camping once more and then arriving at Erldunda on Sunday 10th. When we watered the camels at Erldunda the young camel showed no interest in the troughs, leading me to speculate that he may have had no acquaintance with water from the time he had been weaned. He must have survived solely on the moisture in the saltbush, as there was no water on his tabletop hill.
We cut him loose at Erldunda as he was holding up our progress, intending to recover him on our return. We continued our journey fairly uneventfully, sighting Curtain Springs Station on the evening of Thursday 14th. We pressed on in the gathering dusk towards the dim kerosene lights of the Station, but this was not to the liking of one of the pack camels, which had become used to having her load removed at dusk. She threw her load and had to be repacked. This happened a second time and after repacking her, I rode behind her with my pistol drawn, being a bit irate by then. We rode in to the Station without further incident to find Constable Millgate and Native Affairs Patrol Officer Les Penhall playing Ludo by the light of a kerosene lamp with Alan Pavelitch and Ossie Andrews, who owned the Station.
I learnt that the suspect, Barry Mutarubi, had followed the victim, a young girl, who was out rabbiting. He wanted her, but his desire was not reciprocated. He speared her in the back and had intercourse with her as she lay dying. The suspect had then headed bush. The following day we interviewed aboriginal witnesses and then drove in the Native Affairs Land Rover to Mulga Park, a Cattle Station about 70 Kilometres South near the S.A. Border, where the suspect, Barry Mutarubi had been seen. The Trackers spent the day at Curtain Springs repairing saddles and then set off with the camels for Mulga Park.
We left one Tracker with the camels at Mulga Park and drove to Ernabella Mission in South Australia, seeking information as to the suspect’s whereabouts, without success. When we got to Mulga Park there was nobody at the Station. We took aboriginal Norman, who knew the suspect well and was the main witness, with us to Ernabella. I had shot a Bush Turkey near Mulga Park. We put it in a camp oven we borrowed from the Station, dug a hole in the sand, lit a fire in it, then buried the camp oven with the coals of the fire. The turkey was done to a turn when we got back. After we returned to Mulga Park we went by camel to Ayliff Hill, just inside the S.A. Border, where the suspect’s tracks had last been seen. No new tracks were found there.
The Aborigines were marvellous trackers. It used to be thought they had better eyesight than whites, as often a white man could not see a track that an Aboriginal saw, even when it was pointed out to him. The skill is now largely lost through disuse. The ability to track had previously been necessary for survival.
The old tracks indicated Barry Mutarubi could have been heading for the Kelly Hills, back in the Territory to the North West, where he could have hidden out. We searched that area and then headed South West to the foot of the Musgrave Ranges, checking around water holes for tracks, again without success. We returned to Mulga Park on Friday 22nd May.
As there was a track suitable for a four-wheel drive to Ayers Rock and Mount Olga we checked the vicinity of the water holes in that area, again without success. We later heard from aboriginals that the suspect had crossed the border into West Australia. We decided to abandon the search, as the suspect would be likely to return eventually to his own country. I headed back to Erldunda with the camels.
When I arrived at Erldunda I found the young camel had died, possibly from shock. The Station owner, Sid Staines was ill, so I sent the Trackers and the witness Norman to Finke with the camels while I drove Sid in his utility up the track to Alice Springs Hospital for treatment. I was glad of the opportunity, as I was anxious to visit Alice Springs. Madge had been required to be in the A.I.M Hostel at Alice Springs before the end of the month, awaiting the birth of our second child. My patrol return for the month showed I had travelled 1,800 Kilometres, 500 of them by camel. I did not know it at the time, but this was to be the last Police camel patrol. Perhaps it might even be re-enacted on the 50th anniversary in May 2003, from the Finke to Ayers Rock.
Our first two children were born while we were stationed at Finke. This meant Madge travelling by train to Alice Springs for pre-natal visits. It was expected that a mother-to-be would leave home and go to the Australian Inland Mission Hostel three weeks before the due date of the baby. This was fine if the projected date of birth was right. I had to leave on this last camel patrol in May, just a week before Madge was due to go up to the A.I.M. hostel to await the birth of our second child. She couldn’t take Tess, then 15 months old, to the A.I.M with her, so we had to send for my mother to come up from Sydney to look after Tess and to do the rations etc. This was an unwelcome extra expense, but you just had to cope.
Of course baby Patricia was late arriving, so Madge was in Alice Springs two weeks longer than expected. I arrived in Alice Springs just in time for the baby’s birth. Madge had her 21st birthday in the hospital a few days later. I came back up from the Finke when the baby was a week old and Madge insisted on coming back to Finke on the Ghan train, against Dr. Welton’s advice. I signed her out, and home we went.
The Ghan had been the scene of an earlier incident. We were flying back to Alice from our first leave, in 1952. We needed to be in Alice by lunchtime to catch the Ghan, but the TAA plane was running late. The pilot radioed to the Railway Station and arranged for the Ghan to pick us up at the side of the line where it passed the Alice aerodrome. A car was ready and raced us over and set us down by the line, where the train duly stopped and picked us up. However the next day I was ill with a high fever. The Flying Doctor plane was sent down to take me to Alice. I was admitted to the Hospital with Pneumonia. Madge decided to catch the next Ghan train, which was two days away. With the baby Tess in the basket she caught the train to Alice. The Conductor was ‘Aspro’ Lyons who gave Madge a sleeping cabin and kept an eye on Tess while Madge had an evening meal. When she finished the meal and had fed the baby she placed Tess on the seat whilst she adjusted herself. Then the train derailed. The top bunk, which formed the back of the seat in the daytime, came down and sandwiched the baby between it and the seat. Thankfully she wasn’t hurt but Madge got quite a shock. The derailment happened about 40 miles South of Alice Springs. After a long wait for a bus the journey to Alice continued. The bus appeared to have faulty steering and wobbled its way to Alice Springs. Madge and baby arrived in Alice in the early hours of the next morning and she then had to carry her luggage and the baby to her sister’s house. By the time she got to the Hospital she looked like she should have been admitted.
When we went on leave in March 1954, Constable Millgate took over at the Finke. He was provided with a Landrover and so did not use the camels. I was posted to Alice Springs on my return from leave. Some months later I had to return to the Finke. Geoff Millgate had broken an arm in a fight with an aboriginal called Gilligan. I had had some trouble with Gilligan but I had convinced him to leave Finke and get a job on a Station. A Flying Doctor plane, a converted Tiger Moth was sent to bring Geoff to the Alice Springs Hospital. I travelled down lying on the stretcher in the body of the ‘plane, looking over the pilots shoulder. When I arrived the townspeople had subdued Gilligan and locked him in the cell. I escorted him to Alice Springs by train.
Stanley followed me from the Finke to Alice Springs, and I was able to get him a job as Tracker at the Alice Springs Police Station. In 1956. Whilst still stationed at Alice Springs, I raided an aboriginal camp at Yuendumu at dawn one day, with Tracker Stanley, in search of a suspect in another matter. Stanley recognised Barry Mutarubi’s tracks in the camp so I was able to arrest both suspects. I had never seen Barry and would not have found him without Stanley. It was the practice always to raid a camp at dawn. When Aborigines fell asleep it was the deepest sleep possible. This may have been because they just lay on the ground near a fire, and in the cold of the desert if they had been at all conscious they would not get any sleep. They sometimes rolled into a fire and got burned without waking. Apart from a small fire they usually had nothing else but their dogs to keep them warm, hence the practice of referring to a cold night as a “two dog night”.
At his trial Barry’s lawyer pleaded provocation, on the grounds that the girl he had killed had called him ‘Karlu’ (erect prick). The Judge held that whilst words could not amount to provocation in our culture, they could in his. He was sentenced to six months for manslaughter.
Norman's evidence, from the tracks, was that Barry had followed the girl, who was hunting rabbits. He had speared her in the back and then had intercourse with her as she lay dying. Of course this was all inference from the tracks he had seen, he had not witnessed the actual events.
Figure 1: "The Last Cameleers"
ln April 1986 the Northern Territory Police celebrated the Centenary of Police presence in Alice Springs. Ex members of the Force gathered from around Australia. A group photo of the last of the cameleers was taken. It shows ‘Hanger Bill’ McKinnon, Alf ‘Broken Nose' Johnson. ‘Big Bill’ Littlejohn, Ron ‘Brownie’ Brown and the author, Tony ‘Ned’ Kelly.